White Noise: News and Information from Inside the Media Bubble
The white rhinoceros in the room and other taboos
News & Record columnist Jeri Rowe began his series about the Gate City’s fault lines of mistrust, racial division and difficulty with developing young leaders on Sunday by naming these tangled dysfunctions the “Greensboro Disease.” The newspaper, which has gathered a reputation for erring on the side of caution to please the greatest number of readers and of trying to remain above the fray, promises to allocate four issues to the series. If this passage from the first installment is any indication, he’s not tiptoeing around the city’s issues: “A scandal in the police department that festers like a splinter. A lack of reconciliation over one of our worst moments. And an effort to recognize one of our best moments – a time when four college students sat down to stand up against racism – that still breeds skepticism.” And he’s not refraining from talking about the competition. “‘The Sound of the Beep,’ a phone-in feature in The Rhinoceros Times,” Rowe writes, “drones on week after week with anonymous posts full of anger, accusations and hate.” (YES! Weekly, for the record, has never hesitated to voice criticism of our competitors, or dispense praise when we feel it’s merited.) Editor John Robinson, who brought the idea to Rowe, acknowledges that the News & Record may be treading in a minefield, writing, “Because this story will be filtered through your own values and experiences, we don’t expect everyone to agree with the solutions, or even the premise. It wouldn’t be Greensboro if everyone did.” Just as likely, if the News & Record avoided the issues that divide the city, it’s critics would only be more emboldened.
A need-to-know basis
The Freedom of Information Act came into effect in 1967, signed by President Lyndon Johnson after it was decided that the American people had a right to know what their government was up to. And though it has undergone limitations, expansions and amendments, the spirit of the law remains unchanged. But, according to a report card issued this year by the Better Government Association and the National Freedom of Information Coalition, most states are woefully lax in their responses to requests for public information. Thirty-eight of the 50 states received failing grades on the report card, which measured, among other factors, response time and opportunities for appeal, and featured prominently among them was North Carolina. Researchers awarded the Old North State 5.5 out of a possible 16 points, citing poor response time, scant opportunity for appeal, nonexistent punishment for agencies denying public information and a pronounced lack of expedited review for cases that make it to court. On the positive side, North Carolina does sometimes award remuneration for attorney fees and court costs when a citizen prevails in action against the government. Still, our state scored 34 percent on this test, a resounding F. We can, and must, do better.
When crime pays
Have you ever wanted to sell ads for a newspaper? If the answer is yes, I have good news for you. A brand new paper is coming to the Triad, and they’re looking for sales staff. But there’s a catch. This particular paper is looking for a certain kind of salesman – one with a criminal record. We’re not talking penny ante stuff here either. They want felons. Convicted felons. Now, we’re all for criminal rehabilitation, but we’re wondering whether there might be another, more sinister motivation for this particular hiring practice. Some papers rely upon a sales staff stocked with well-groomed professionals, and others, well, they might want to hire a more convincing kind of salesman. You say you’re going to be late on your payment this month? I’ll be sending your account manager right over.
It was just a few months ago that we rejoiced in the expansion of our fellow North Carolina alt-weekly when Creative Loafing (which is actually based in Atlanta, but whatever) purchased the amazing Chicago Reader and the very good Washington City Paper. So imagine our dismay when the brain trust at the Loaf green-lighted the firing of seven employees in its Atlanta offices and nine more editorial staffers from their new papers, including John Conroy, an investigative reporter who had been published in the Reader for more than 20 years. Not only does this not look good for the largest Southern alt-weekly conglomerate, it makes all the braying we’ve been doing about our niche’s relative health as opposed to the plight of the daily newspaper seem a little premature. In a word: Ouch. But we’ll always have adult ads and the F-word. Won’t we?